The Afghan refugees were for the very first time since the increased pressure to repatriate to their home country, given the opportunity to voice their fears and tribulations. Pakistan has amplified pressure on Afghanistan and the UN refugee agency to repatriate all 1.5 million Afghan refugees in the country by the end of this year, a mammoth task only achievable when all parties involved will have the opportunity to voice their concerns. The grand jirga of elders from the Afghan refugee community across KP, Balochistan and Punjab came together interact with leaders and officials from both countries and brought up some legitimate suggestions that could make the process much smoother and achievable.

Apart from the obvious problem of the identity crisis faced by children of refugees, the elder representative of the KP Afghans claimed that a system needs to be in place for refugees who had built livelihoods and businesses in Pakistan, to facilitate their travel to Pakistan. He also acknowledged the presence of a large number of undocumented Afghans in the country, according to a UNHCR official around 50,000, insisting that that they should be given the chance to be registered and allowed to avail the option of voluntary repatriation. Even though it is easier for Pakistan to deport the illegal Afghans at this point in time, allowing them to be registered gives them the benefits attached to voluntary repatriation.

Kabul’s ambassador to Pakistan, Dr Omar Zakhilwal, invoked some good old nationalism and encouraged them to opt for voluntary repatriation. He talked about how Afghanistan needed them for peace and stability and the chorus response he received from the elders in the audience was, “We are ready to go”. Willingness and commitment to return is the most important factor in the entire ordeal they will face and it is a positive development that they have expressed it after being heard out. The Afghan people are a proud race and it is only fair that they go back to their homeland with dignity and respect.